Friday, May 4, 2012

Too Many Chiefs?

I found it quite interesting that Minister of Defence Peter MacKay is re-organizing the command structure of the Canadian Forces.  Why?  Because I bumped into the new structures as I started doing research on Canada in Afghanistan.  General Rick Hillier re-organized the Canadian military early in his term in office, with little instruction or oversight from the civilians, moving the command for operations from the office of the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff.  Instead, four commands were set up: Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command [CEFCOM], Canada Command, Canada Support Command [CANOSCOM], and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command [CANSOFCOM].  Folks argued that CEFCOM and Canada Command were imitations of American combatant commands, as CEFCOM is responsible for all Canadian operations outside of North America and Canada Command is responsible for North American operations--including participation in NORAD.

The Americans shifted more weight to combatant commands--CENTCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, etc.--to empower one officer (a four star general or admiral) with sole responsibility for the operations of all branches of the service in his/her domain (with an exception for SOF, who often have a different chain of command going back home).  The idea is to force the services to operate well with each other and provide unity of command.  The Canadians are not supposed to have rivalry problems among the services because they unified the different services in the late 1960's.  But the realities of modern warfare mean that you need to do unity of command quite well.  To be clear, Hillier did not just imitate the US as other countries have set up similar structures including the Brits (PJHQ)and the Aussies (HQJOC) to deal with operating their militaries. 

CEFCOM and Canada Command were moved to Startop, an office building on the outskirts of Ottawa.  Ottawa is pretty small, so this is not far but definitely intended to make remove these folks from the DND building in downtown.  I have been to the Startop building several times to interview people at CEFCOM, including two commanders of CEFCOM and a few deputy commanders.  Not much parking. 

Anyhow, last year, in his last year as Lt.Gen., Andrew Leslie wrote a report recommending the cutting of some of these commands since the multiplication of these HQs means less officers and enlisted folks to serve in combat.  MacKay finally acted on this, apparently, with two commands replacing four: all but SOF are being folded into one command.  I think this is a two part-mistake: I think SOF should be folded in but perhaps Canada Command and CEFCOM kept separate.

First, the separation of SOF is problematic because, although it keeps tight the chain of command from Canada to the field, it usually violates "unity of command" as the folks engaged in conventional operations will not have control over or even know what the secret guys are doing.  If one is commanding all Canadian forces abroad, I think that should include the folks with the least amount of oversight.

Second, I don't know how much work it is to run Canada Command or to run CEFCOM, but I do imagine that one officer doing both is going to be mighty, mighty busy, even after Afghanistan ramps completely down.  More importantly, one could make a pretty clear distinction between the kinds of stuff each are doing.  Canada Command involves the defence of North American and of operations within Canada (such as recovery from ice storms).  CEFCOM involves overseas operations that have more offensive heft to them.  Sure, one officer could run both in theory, but they do seem to be distinct endeavors to me.

As a scholar what intrigues me is the comparison between the Hillier initiative and the MacKay decision.  Canada's military was allowed to organize itself as it saw fit for quite a while, but that has changed.  Is it because of the $$?  Is it because the CF went too far and had too much discretion?  Is it about the Harper government extending control everywhere?

The other question, far more answerable soon enough, is whether the new HQ--Canadian Joint Operations Command [CJOC?]--will be in Startop on the edge of town or back in DND under the noses of the pesky civilians?


Anonymous said...

The office was called the Deputy Chief of the DEFENCE Staff, not 'Command' Staff.

Steve Saideman said...

Yes, I knew that but my fingers and brain dis-connected. Thanks for the correction. Will update.